Blog Post #3- Arresting Dress

Clare Sears book, Arresting Dress: Cross-dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, explores the criminalization of deviating from gender norms through the medium of expression through clothing. Although the miners during the gold rush had embraced cross-dressing, the urbanization of San Francisco led to a different societal attitude toward it as an abnormality. The law in San Francisco, not only criminalized cross-dressing, but stigmatized it, therefore creating the gender normative fashion we all grew up with. While this seemed like an issue confined to gender policing, due to intersectional implications this had far-reaching consequences for racial and sexual minorities. This was also during a time that eventually led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the law in San Francisco preceded it and was used to stereotype and exclude Chinese immigrants (before there was a specific law for that too). People of non-conforming sexual and gender identities were also targeted and forced to stifle their self expression through clothing out of fear for their safety as this laws enforcement was not immune to brutality by the police.

Although there are no longer legal restrictions on cross-dressing I think the stigma and conditioning still remains. As I mentioned above, the result of these unjust restrictions factor into what led to the attitudes we grew up with and are still perpetuated today. Not to the extent of the past, but people still hold biases and stigmatize others who do not conform to the narrow ideals formulated in the law. I’m glad we’ve made progress as a society and I hope the unconstitutionality of this law will soon be seen in many of the unjust legal policies we have today that continue to sustain such normative expectations and practices.

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